Pressure continues to build over statutory PSHE and SRE call

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Photo: iStock

The pressure on education secretary Nicky Morgan over the question of statutory PSHE has increased once again as the Department for Education (DfE) continues to stall on the issue.

In February last year, a report by the Education Select Committee recommended making PSHE and sex and relationships education (SRE) statutory subjects. The DfE promised a full response on the issue by the end of 2015, but as yet nothing has been forthcoming.Chairman of the Education Select Committee Neil Carmichael MP wrote to Ms Morgan late last year expressing his frustration at the government’s “feeble” response to the report.

Now Ms Morgan has received a second letter, this time from the chairs of four of the Parliamentary Select Committees – Education, Health, Home Affairs, and Business and Innovation and Skills.

The letter states: “We write to express our disappointment with your response so far to the issue of statutory status for PSHE and SRE.

“PSHE is a crucial part of preparing young people for life. It can provide them with the knowledge and confidence to make decisions which will affect their health, wellbeing and relationships, now and in the future. It can help develop the skills and attributes needed to secure employment, and can help protect young people from abuse in many forms.”

Currently, PSHE and SRE are not statutory subjects on the national curriculum. However, the national curriculum framework statutory guidance states that schools should make provision for PSHE and that secondary schools must teach SRE. Despite this, the only topic SRE must cover under legislation is HIV, AIDS and other STIs.

MPs on the Education Select Committee were further concerned when the DfE in its evidence to its original inquiry said that SRE was statutory on the basis that some parts are covered in the science curriculum.

However, the science curriculum only covers basic sex education such as puberty and reproduction in primary science and the menstrual cycle and reproductive system in secondary science and it is not compulsory in academy or free schools.

The picture was confused further by education minister Nick Gibb who told MPs that the government’s existing SRE guidance (from 2000) was “not optional” – but then added: “Those schools that want to, and that do, teach SRE have to have regard to the statutory guidance.”

In their letter, the four chairs pointed to a range of recommendations from Parliamentary committees and government advisors during the past 18 months calling for action on the issue.

This includes the Home Affairs Committee as part of its inquiry into female genital mutilation, the Joint Committee on Human Rights as part of its inquiry into violence against women and girls, and the chief medical officer in their annual report for 2014.
Also quoted in the letter is the children’s commissioner Anne Longfield, who is among those supporting a move to statutory PSHE.

Ms Longfield reiterated her support during an evidence session with the Education Select Committee last week, calling for a set curriculum for PSHE.

Ms Longfield told MPs: “At the moment, the experience that children tell me about (with their PSHE lessons) is vastly inconsistent. It is about quality and consistency. Very often, young people say to me that they have had very patchy, swift lessons. At worst, they say they are taught by their maths teacher, who puts on a video. They say they are deeply embarrassed for their maths teacher. They don’t ask any questions because they want to help the process pass.

“As part of it being statutory, it needs to have certain levels of quality. It needs to have trained individuals and it needs to have a requirement about who can teach it.”

The chairs’ letter added: “It is clear to the four of us that there is a need to work towards PSHE and SRE becoming statutory in all schools, and we urge you to accept the recommendations that a range of Parliamentary committees have made.

“The government has now missed its own deadline of responding in full to the Education Committee’s report. We ask that you now make tackling the issue of PSHE in schools your new year’s resolution.”

For more on the children’s commissioner’s evidence session with the Education Select Committee, go to

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